Monday, January 25, 2010

The Next Steve Jobs ... a Sarah?

Thomas Friedman, the moustachioed New York Times columnist has a piece out this week that's making the rounds of the tweetosphere. And no wonder--it's all about a subject near and dear to the hearts of techy crowd that make up the Twitterati. Tom's headline tells it all, "More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs." Considering that this week the entire tech world is slavering like a pack of hungry hounds about the forthcoming announcement of the Apple Tablet-- which TechCrunch hears Steve Jobs is calling "the most important thing I've ever done"--this was a well-timed headline.

But Tom doesn't so much talk about Steve Jobs as evoke him. He offers some pointed advice to President Obama: "What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again."

He cites two programs for youth, and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship--and instructs the President to show the documentary about NFTE, in every classroom in America.  All well and good, but I notice that neither of these programs is focused on something that might well be the key to America's success in the coming decades: encouraging young women to learn more about careers in high tech.

This is on my mind, as I'm on the committee for a conference for young women to be held next month in Los Altos, Dare2BDigital. The one-day event is sponsored by an A List of tech companies, including IBM, SAP, HP, Microsoft, Cisco and Symantec. It offers young women aged 13-16 a chance to learn more about the exciting and creative careers that await them in engineering and computer science. If I'd gone to something like this when I was a teenager, my life might well have gone very differently. The workshops demonstrate just how much fun and creativity there is in a career in tech these days--from virtual worlds to art and animation to tech journalism. I myself will work with a select group of five participants to chronicle the event in pictures and sounds, which will go live on my podcasting site, TechnoGirlTalk.

At a time when everyone's concerned about the lessons that adolescent young women are learning from movies like the Twilight series, this event seems like a breath of fresh air. This generation has unique opportunities. They are entering a world in which women are not only allowed to pursue careers of their own--but expected to. They're also living at a time when technology is offering previously undreamt of ways to communicate and change the world. I can't help but wonder if, as my headline suggests, the next big thing--the Apple of the 2020s--will be led by one of these young women. Tom and other watchers, take note.

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